Founded in 2010, Swedish game studio Simogo quickly established itself as one of the leading developers when it comes to mobile games.
Rarely keeping to just one genre, the studio has embraced the likes of endless runners (Bumpy Road), rhythm games (Beat Sneak Bandit), and adventure puzzlers (Year Walk), while also putting an unique spin on everything it tries. For example, 2013's Device 6 implemented innovative sound use, narrative design, and kept players guessing to the last second.
With an extended catalog of industry honors (including BAFTAs and IGF awards), Simogo has proven itself a creative darling and a mainstay of the mobile game industry.
That is, until now. With 2018 nearly upon us, Simogo on Monday announced that its next project (referred to as 'Project Night Road') will be a console game, while the company takes a break from mobile development.
This seems like a big deal for the studio, and a significant bellwether for mobile game devs, so Gamasutra quickly talked to Simogo cofounder Simon Flesser to find out more about the decision.
"With the constant changes of practices and tech [on mobile], it's been a growing frustration," explains Flesser.
Having already mentioned in a blog post how much of 2017 was spent updating old mobile games to ensure they run properly on new iOS versions, Flesser went into further detail: "The constant adding of new aspect ratios [is] especially bothersome for 2D games [as is the case with all of Simogo's titles]."
"There's sadly probably not really any initiative for Apple to change their ways."
As he points out, if the team at Simogo had known in 2010 that they'd still be required to update games seven years later, simply so that they'll work at all, they'd have shook their heads in disbelief.
The inflexible App Store
"It's hard enough to design 2D games for several aspect ratios to make sure all the info that needs to be presented onscreen is there," explains Flesser. "It's even harder to retrofit new aspect ratios to fit your old games to it."
Simogo's text adventure game Device 6, released in 2013
That's a constant issue for iOS development, since Apple introduced iPhones and iPads that each offer different screen sizes. While, once, developers could be guaranteed that all iPhones were the same size, there are now four different screen sizes to consider, each with different types of Retina display and therefore different resolutions. It's tough for any developer to keep up with, even more so when it comes to 2D pixel design.
Simogo also ran into issues when the transition to 64-bit iOS was implemented. "Delisting 32-bit apps on the App Store was a frustrating, and weird move," notes Flesser.
Combined, such issues mean that smaller outfits like Simogo are limited to simply treading water with existing titles rather than having the time to develop new experiences. After all, who wants to be the developer that lets down their existing userbase by not keeping things running smoothly? However, it's an understandably infuriating issue for any creative enterprise that's keen to keep moving forward -- hence, Simogo's shift to consoles.
"...The need for what seems like perpetual support, as Apple keep changing things in iOS updates [with limited] concern if third party apps are compatible, gives iOS a big disadvantage to consoles," Flesser points out. His suspicion is that Apple feels it "doesn't really need to adjust to the needs of smaller developers like [Simogo], because there are plenty of bigger developers that can afford to keep supporting their games forever."
A very good photo of Flesser (in costume) taken from a Simogo blog post promoting a sale this summer
It's a potentially seismic shift for an App Store that was once a fertile breeding ground for smaller firms carving their niche into this once imaginative arena.
"There's sadly probably not really any initiative for Apple to change their ways when it comes to compatibility," Flesser glumly notes. "Their store can still house plenty of software for their users [but] I think losing smaller developers is a shame for the store." As he points out, there are "many interesting and innovative things coming from small teams."
Advice for devs who are sticking it out on mobile
So, what does Flesser feel would benefit new developers coming through? For one, remembering there's competition everywhere is critical.
"I think it's been really hard for new developers to step in for a while, but not necessarily harder than any other platform," he says. "There's simply a lot of competition, especially on more open platforms, like mobile."
Also, on a more practical level, "design something that's not dependent on screen aspect ratio," Flesser suggests. "Make art that can scale indefinitely like 3D graphics."
As Flesser and Magnus 'Gordon' Gardebäck have learned the hard way while developing games at Simogo, your designs need to be adaptable for whatever Apple comes up with next.
The future for Simogo
Fortunately for the duo, Flesser is confident of Simogo’s future release, Project Night Road. While the team currently is providing anyinformation in terms of what the game will be like or even the publisher behind it, the pair have pedigree in the field. They previously console games together at Southend Interactive, creating titles like ilomilo.
2010's ilomilo, developed by Southend Interactive and Microsoft Game Studios
They made the switch to mobile game development because, at the time, console game development felt clunky and primitive. Now that's come around full circle, and they see greener pastures on consoles. With the feeling being that a lot of the 'clunkiness' is gone, the time feels right for Project Night Road.
"We have a background in console game development, and also made a Wii U version of Year Walk," notes Flesser. "On the development side, we're fairly 'safe'," he points out confidently.
And in terms of the market? "I don't necessarily think the actual market is easier than mobile, to be honest!" As he astutely notes, "different things work for different devices, inputs, and audiences."
There's also that underlying feeling that Simogo won't be the only major developer taking a break from mobile development in 2018. With the increasing need for substantial alterations each time a new iPhone or version of iOS is launched, and the growing dependence on micro transactions for companies keen to make a living, Apple's App Store might not be looking so appealing any more for many smaller development teams.